Can The London Riots Really Be Blamed On Social Media And BBM?

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By Herdy Ramanuj
on 9/8/11

Reports have all suggested that mobile technology such as BlackBerry Messenger and social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook played a major role in coordinating and organising the riots across London, according to the police. The media today has been focused around how social media has played in the riots in London and other cities.

The riots that have lasted over the past three days originally started in Tottenham and have since spread across London to areas such as Croydon, Lewisham, Walthamstow, Brixton, Islington, Ealing, Enfield and Clapham. The riots have already been dubbed ‘Britain’s first 21st century riot’. After reading the Metro on the way to work, I saw a few snapshots of tweets discussing the planned violence with links to news articles:

- @Natasha_tweets1: @BlottrTweets: Southgate, Palmers Gn, Barnet on alert for evening of riots tonight #LondonRiots #Enfield" lock up!

- @BlottrTweets: #Breaking#Hackney: Hundreds of people, many masked now gathered in stand off with police. Makeshift weapons being thrown at police.

- @Jon1992smiley: Staples corner. Brent cross. To be hit tonight at 10pm. Source BBM message. #LondonRiots

- @willsscott: London riots: kitchen staff at Notting Hill restaurant The Ledbury protect diners with rolling pins #LondonRiots

The groups of people who appeared to riot and attack shops together used mobile phones to communicate instantly with other networks. The original protest in Tottenham against the police killing of Mark Duggan was partly coordinated on Facebook. This protest soon turned violent with buildings, cars and buses set on fire with Twitter becoming the network of choice for images and videos to be uploaded to. YouTube has most recently been the major platform for videos to be uploaded to. Mark Duggan even used BlackBerry messenger to send his last message to his girlfriend, stating, “The Feds are following me.”

Twitter has once again become the main source for live streaming of reports and photographs posted by local residents. Although the riots spread to areas of Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol and Nottingham it has not reached Manchester, despite some media reporting this. The Greater Manchester Police were also quick to diminish the false reports, with their Tweet, “Contrary to some reports overnight/this morning; there was no serious trouble and/or disorder reported across Greater Manchester overnight.”

Although  it may look all bad for social media, users have turned the community against the looters in Britain, with the launch of the #RiotCleanup hastag and the @Riotcleanup Twitter account, in a bid to restore some normality and sense of community to London. Two clean-up websites have also been launched and The @Riotcleanup Twitter account has now managed to gain over 47,000 followers, and received celebrity backing from Stephen Fry, along with English footballers Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney. The account has also been used to post images of the current clean-up efforts, with an example from Clarence Road cleanup in progress:

Can social media be blamed for this, or has it simply been used as a method of communication. After all if social media wasn’t available surely it still would of spread, just not as fast? Let us know your thoughts.